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It's Alive

Fungal fight club

4:45pm, November 22, 2013

DRAWING THE LINE  A lion’s mane fungus (Hericium erinaceus) roars out territorial challenges via silent chemical secretions. Battle lines between fungi can appear as dark streaks inside logs.

Battles between mushrooms don’t make a sound, but they’re violent. “Good fighters can kill the less-good ones and take over their territories,” says mycologist Lynne Boddy of Cardiff University in Wales. “There are battles royal going on all the time.”

Combat between fungal individuals is a bit like war between heaps of spaghetti. The main bodies of fungi are networks of long, thin strands called hyphae that insinuate themselves into anything they can eat: tree trunks, plant roots, dung and so on. Defending a food source or wresting a few more millimeters of turf away from a rival can prolong life. So fungi don’t let a lack of teeth, claws or eyes diminish their ferocity. Boddy studies toadstool-forming basidiomycetes, a group rife with combatants that poison opponents or release enzymes that dissolve their flesh.

“I’m a great fight-goer,” Boddy says. Hundreds of times, she estimates, she has brought fungi in

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